- Scientists used supercomputer simulations to understand the origin of the rings
- A collision between two icy moons may have led to their formation
Ever since Saturn’s rings were first seen through a telescope, they have puzzled astronomers.
But a team of researchers now believes they have discovered the origin of the mystical loops.
A new series of supercomputer simulations suggests that a massive collision between two icy moons a few hundred million years ago may have led to their formation.
And it could help explain why the rings appear much “younger” than the planet itself.
The most recent high-quality measurements of Saturn come from the Cassini spacecraft, which studied the planet and its systems for 13 years after entering Saturn’s orbit in 2004.
Ever since Saturn’s rings were first seen through a telescope, they have puzzled astronomers. But a team of researchers now believes they have discovered the origin of the mystical loops
A new series of supercomputer simulations suggests that a massive collision between two icy moons a few hundred million years ago may have led to their formation
The ship collected precise data by flying past and even diving into the gap between Saturn’s rings and the planet itself.
Cassini found that the rings are almost pure ice and have accumulated very little dust pollution since their formation, suggesting that they formed in the youngest phase of the solar system’s life.
Fascinated by the youth of the rings, scientists from NASA and the universities of Durham and Glasgow have modeled what various collisions between progenitor moons might have looked like.
These simulations were carried out at more than 100 times higher resolution than previous studies and gave scientists the best insight into the history of the Saturn system.
Dr. Vincent Eke from Durham University said: “We tested a hypothesis for the recent formation of Saturn’s rings and found that an impact from icy moons is capable of delivering enough material near Saturn to form the rings that we see now.”
Cassini found that the rings are almost pure ice and have accumulated very little dust pollution since their formation, suggesting that they formed in the youngest phase of the solar system’s life
“This scenario naturally leads to ice-rich rings because when the progenitor moons collide, the rock in the cores of the colliding bodies is less widely distributed than the ice above.”
Saturn’s rings are now located near the planet within the so-called Roche limit – the most distant orbit in which a planet’s gravitational pull is strong enough to break up larger bodies of rock or ice that come closer.
Material orbiting further out could clump together to form moons.
By simulating nearly 200 different versions of the impact, the research team discovered that a variety of collision scenarios could scatter the right amount of ice into Saturn’s Roche limit, where it could settle into rings as icy as those on Saturn today .
Because other elements of the system have a mixed ice and rock composition, alternative explanations have failed to explain why there is almost no rock in Saturn’s rings.
The results were published in the Astrophysical Journal.
SATURN: THE BASICS
Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second largest planet in our solar system after Jupiter.
With its solar rings it is considered the “jewel of the solar system”.
It’s not the only planet to have rings, but none are as spectacular or complicated as Saturn’s.
Saturn, like Jupiter, is a massive sphere composed primarily of hydrogen and helium with some heavy elements.
Its core extends over 60 percent of the Earth’s radius.
It is similar to the rest of the planet, but is made of a “slushy” material made up of gases, metallic liquids, rocks and ice.
Saturn is the most distant planet from Earth that could be discovered with the naked eye. He has been known since ancient times.
The planet is named after the Roman god of agriculture and wealth, who was also the father of Jupiter.
While the planet Saturn is an unlikely place for living things to take hold, the same cannot be said for some of its many moons.
Satellites like Enceladus and Titan, which host inner oceans, could potentially harbor life.
Facts and figures
Distance from the sun: 1.434 billion km
orbital period: 29 years
surface: 42.7 billion km²
radius: 58,232 km
Dimensions: 5.683 × 10^26 kg (95.16 M⊕)
length of the day: 0d 10h 42m
Moons: 82 with formal names; countless additional moons